Posts Tagged ‘grace’

Advent: Season of Hope, Peace, and Joy

December 15, 2015

hope peace joyWe are well into the season of Advent– only one Sunday between us and the special event we wait for. Advent, in the church world, is a season of waiting and watching for Christ to come in his many forms. We watch for the baby in the manger, we watch for the Christ who will come again. We look behind to the prophets of old who foretold the birth of the Messiah, and we look ahead to the life, death, and ministry of Jesus.

For the first Sunday of Advent we celebrate Hope. Hope is an expectation and desire that something will happen. It is the thing that keeps us going; hope makes us stand up and raise our heads. As Andy Dufresne wrote to Red in The Shawshank Redemption“hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

The Psalmist writes, “Our hope is in the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” We hope in the one who created the universe out of nothing, who made the sky and seas, the earth and all that is in it. Our Advent hope is for the one who is and was and is to come– the Messiah, the deliverer, who will heal our brokenness with compassion and grace. This year’s gospel passage for this Sunday features John the Baptizer, pointing the way to Jesus the Christ, and the hope that comes with him.

For the second Sunday of Advent we celebrate Peace.  Peace can be understood as a time of quiet and tranquility, free from disturbance. It is a time without war, without strife, a time of harmony between social groups. In this year’s gospel for this Sunday John calls us to live peacefully with each other– not in so many words, but through actions: be kind and share what you have with anyone who has less; don’t cheat anyone; and don’t steal from others but be satisfied with what is yours.

In these times of seemingly endless war and conflict it is especially important that we look to Jesus the Christ as the Prince of Peace, and that we follow his way in seeking that peace. The ministry of Jesus was one of healing, of comforting, of loving– especially to the poor, the oppressed, those who had demons or other illnesses. Jesus opened the eyes of the blind and awakened the people around him to their own self-worth, bringing peace to their lives– and ours.

The third Sunday of Advent is Joy Sunday. Joy is a state of pleasure, delight or happiness– though being joyful doesn’t mean being happy all the time! To me, joy is more of a state of being, rather than an emotion. Joy can be fleeting, as when you receive a piece of good news; or can be longer lasting, as when you have an encounter with God or the Spirit. These mountaintop experiences can bring us a joy that stays with us always.

We see joy in this year’s gospel passage for this Sunday, which is the song of Mary. Mary sings of a God who will bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly. This is good news and a cause for joy for anyone who suffers at the hand of oppression!

Hope, peace, and joy all abound during the Advent season. Hope for a special Christmas with family and friends, peace on Christmas Eve when the children are asleep and the presents are wrapped, joy in the knowledge that this season is about the giving of ourselves to others.

These are all wonderful parts of Advent, but this coming week is the best of all– a more excellent way. I can’t wait!

 

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Kingdom Thinking

February 19, 2014

Over the past few Sundays at Community of Faith we’ve been spending time in the Sermon on the Mount. We began with the Beatitudes, moved on to some teachings about discipleship, and last week addressed some difficult human behaviors with kingdom language rather than law language (the sermons are posted on the sermon page of the COF website– www.cofnky.org). But even though Jesus takes a different approach than the religious leaders of the day, he makes it very clear that living without any rules at all isn’t what he is about. He even says that he has come to fulfill the law, not to do away with it.

It is this idea that Jesus fulfills the law that confuses us sometimes. On the one hand,  he’s turning things upside down, like in the Beatitudes: the meek will inherit the earth. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit. Those who crave righteousness will be filled. Peacemakers will be called children of God. On the other hand, he’s saying it’s better to cut off a part of your body if it keeps you from doing wrong, and even though murder is a very bad thing, it is just as bad to harbor anger towards someone or make fun of them. 

The thing is, it is how we conduct ourselves in relationships with others that seems to be Jesus’ focus. Beginning with the two greatest commandments: Love God with all you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself, it is how we treat the people around us that Jesus is concerned with. So it makes sense that we should live in peace with others, and even encourage peace in our communities. It makes sense that we should work for justice. It makes sense that we shouldn’t throw people away, or objectify them, or take what is theirs (either by force or by trickery) or bully them or call them names just because they’re different than we are. The Pharisees demonstrated how difficult it was to follow every “jot and tittle” of the law; but when we live like Jesus, when we work for justice and healing in the world, when we feed the hungry, we are fulfilling the law just as much as if the Torah were still our only guide. If we treat others as human beings, if we refuse to marginalize someone just because they’re different or they seem scary to us or we don’t understand their “lifestyle” then we are truly following the law by following Jesus.

This Sunday will be our last week with the Sermon on the Mount, and it’s a pity that we won’t be going through the second half of the sermon, because it contains some pretty gritty stuff: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also; no one can serve God and wealth; seek first the kingdom of God. Serious talk about our attitudes toward money and wealth and where we put our faith and trust.

The political and social climate today doesn’t seem to lend itself to this vision of how we are to live together. People are demonized for being different– sometimes for being poor and hungry. A very legalistic view of salvation is prevalent right now, one in which if I have mine– my wealth, my food, my house, my job, my salvation- then who cares about anyone else. And if you don’t have these things, then somehow it must be your own fault. And sometimes it may be our own fault, we all make mistakes and some are more life-altering than others, but that doesn’t mean we throw compassion out the window, that doesn’t mean that we don’t help people begin to make better choices, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help them have a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.

If we are to claim the mantle of Christ, we must do more than accept the gift of grace that he offers; we must take up his causes, follow his teachings, and walk the path he walked. This is what it means to fulfill the law as Jesus did. This is what it means to embody the kingdom of heaven.

Winter Grace

January 15, 2014

I do not understand the mystery of grace– only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it finds us.” –Anne Lamott

As I am writing this I am sitting at the window of my office and a light snow is falling. We are now past the Advent, Christmas, New Year hullaballoo, into what some folks refer to as the “dead of winter.” And in a way, the world outside looks dead– the leaves are off of the trees, the grass is dormant, today the sky is the grey that only a winter sky can be.

This is a difficult time of year for many people, with the short, cold days that force us to stay indoors more than we’d like; the season of joyful activity is behind us and that leaves many people feeling down and out. Flu season is in full swing and it just seems like a good time to hunker down and hibernate– maybe bears have the right idea!

And yet, there is a special beauty this time of year. As I watch the snow fall I see the way the flakes dance upon the wind; I see the tracks made by the man who walks his dog around the church each day and I see the patterns that the snow makes on our patio behind the church. Winter has a beauty all its own, and we only have to look around us to see God’s presence and grace in the world. And even in winter we can be transformed by grace, the grace of lengthening days, the grace of a  bright sunny day sandwiched in between the dingy ones. The grace of a cup of hot tea or soup shared with a friend.

Today we pray for those who have no roof over their heads to keep them from the cold; we pray for those who are suffering in body, mind or spirit from illnesses major and minor; we pray for those whose lives have been touched and forever changed by a violent act, and for those who are working to bring joy to all who suffer. “From [Jesus Christ] we have received grace upon grace” says the disciple that Jesus loved. Look for the grace as it meets you where you are. Share the grace that you have received with someone who needs it. Grace is transformational and never leaves us where it finds us. May we all find the grace in these days of winter to bring transformation to our world.